Eight of firm’s offshore facilities, including the world’s largest, Thunder Horse, close as experts warn that tropical storm is brewing.
BP faced its third setback in as many days on Thursday when it was forced to shut down all of its Gulf of Mexico oil platforms and airlift workers out amid threats of a hurricane hitting the region.
Eight of its offshore facilities, including the world’s largest, Thunder Horse, were closed as weather experts warned that a tropical cyclone was brewing and threatening to move through the area, off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.
Anadarko Petroleum also closed its platforms, while Chevron and Apache said they were evacuating staff that were not vital for production purposes.
Industry figures said BP was probably being extra cautious following the problems with the Deepwater Horizon blowout the Gulf of Mexico last year, while also being keen to ensure there were no further problems at Thunder Horse, which produces 250,000 barrels of oil a day. It has suffered a string of engineering difficulties after starting up three years late.
BP said more than 500 staff were being taken off the platforms and insisted it was normal to take such precautions given the circumstances. “There is a large [weather] depression sitting right across part of the gulf and you don’t take chances when it comes these situations,” it said.
But the closure of vital production facilities will hit revenues and is another frustration for BP in a week which has seen it lose any hopes of tying up a deal with state-owned Rosneft in Russia, after the company signed an alternative deal with BP’s rival ExxonMobil.
BP was also rattled on Wednesday when police broke into its local headquarters in Moscow acting on consent given by a court in Siberia. The raid was triggered by an attempt by minority shareholders in BP’s Russian joint venture TNK-BP to wrestle $3bn (£1.85bn) of compensation out of the British company over its failed deal with Rosneft.
The Miami-based national hurricane centre said a low pressure area over the central gulf was moving north-west and had a 70% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next two days.
The storm could move through a heavy concentration of oil and gas platforms off the Louisiana and Texas coasts and potentially damage supplies from the gulf, which accounts for about 30% of the US oil supply and 12% of its gas.
The storm – which will be named Lee if it turns into a hurricane – is likely to cause torrential rain and coastal flooding from the Florida panhandle to Texas, said the hurricane centre’s director, Bill Read.
“We’ve got a huge area of moisture, we’ve got a developing wind field ,” Read said. “We’re probably going to see some tremendous rain amounts and the corresponding flooding that goes with that.”
Hurricane Irene hit the US east coast over the weekend, killing at least 40 people, while a second hurricane, Katia, is already gathering in the Atlantic. Climatologists say global warming could be making these storms more frequent.